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New survey highlights impact of rheumatoid arthritis in the workplace

Published on 26 October 2017
New survey highlights impact of rheumatoid arthritis in the workplaceRheumatoid arthritis patients are frequently not being provided with the level of support they require from their employers, according to a new report.

A survey carried out by the University of Manchester and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society has indicated that many patients feel their bosses are not aware enough of their condition, with many having to change jobs as a consequence of their condition.

The challenges faced by arthritis patients at work
The survey questioned more than 1,500 people in the UK and found that 39 per cent of patients feel that their employer lacks awareness of rheumatoid arthritis, up from 29.5 per cent in a previous survey carried out in 2007.

Moreover, 41.5 per cent said they have had to change jobs since the onset of the illness, while 15 per cent have been forced to stop working altogether. Having to take time off when feeling unwell or experiencing a flare-up was cited as the biggest barrier that those living with the condition face, with 37 per cent ranking this as a serious or very serious problem.

The survey revealed some signs of progress, with 97 per cent of people with rheumatoid arthritis feeling they are being more open about their condition at work, while 63 per cent of people with the condition are in employment today, compared to 55 per cent in 2007.

However, only half of those working were offered adjustments such as flexible working, reduced hours or special equipment in their last job, while more than half would feel unable to continue if their job became more physically or emotionally demanding, showing this progress is precarious.

What can be done?
The report highlights a significant need for companies to understand better the needs of employees affected by conditions such as arthritis and do more to offer more flexible and supportive working policies.

This could include adjustments to the demands of the job, more flexible hours, or simply greater understanding from colleagues and managers.

Dr Suzanne Verstappen, reader at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology, Centre for Musculoskeletal Research at the University of Manchester's School of Biological Sciences, said: "The results of this are very important and will inform patients, employers, health care professionals and policymakers about possible interventions in the workplace and future policies to prevent problems at work and job loss."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Devi Sagar, research liaison manager at Arthritis Research UK, comments: "Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and continually fluctuating condition which affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. The unpredictable nature of the condition not only makes workplace tasks like typing and writing difficult, but can also make planning ahead troublesome. It is great to that more people feel confident about discussing their condition and are in employment, and our hope is this will increase as more employers become more aware of rheumatoid arthritis.

"We know that people with arthritis want to work and that with reasonable adjustments, many people can do that. As a charity we not only fund a research centre into work and arthritis, but we work closely with employers and  the government to help support those living with the condition."
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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.